Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, Monaco, 2021

How did Ferrari overlook the fault which killed Leclerc’s home win hopes?

2021 Monaco Grand Prix

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Ferrari had a tough call to make on Saturday evening in Monaco.

Charles Leclerc had clinched pole position – for his home race, no less – but he’d smashed his car against a barrier while doing it.

Concern initially focused on the car’s gearbox. These units must complete six consecutive races before being changed, and if Leclerc needed a new one, he would take an automatic five-place penalty.

Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto made it clear: If there was the slightest concern Leclerc’s gearbox was at risk of not finishing the race, they wouldn’t take it.

“We will not gamble,” he said. “What’s important after such a quali is to try to maximise the number of points for the championship.

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, Monaco, 2021
There were fears for Leclerc’s gearbox after his crash
This would be a reasonable stance at any circuit. But even more so at Monaco, where drivers punch up and down through the gears more regularly than most circuits.

While Leclerc fretted about his gearbox, the team were encouraged by what they discovered when they inspected his car. On Sunday they announced that following “in-depth checks” they had found “no apparent defects” on the gearbox and had decided not to replace it. Leclerc’s pole position start was seemingly assured.

But soon after Leclerc pulled his SF21 out of the Ferrari pit to drive to the starting grid, it became clear something was awry. “No, no, no,” he despaired on the radio. “Guys, the gearbox.”

Once his car was back in the pits the team swiftly confirmed the devastating news for Leclerc. His race was over before it had started.

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But they were quick to identify that the cause of his problem was not the feared gearbox. “Charles will not start the race due to an issue with the left driveshaft which is impossible to fix in time for the start of the race,” they told the media.

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, Monaco, 2021
Leclerc’s car failed soon after he left the pits
Team principal Mattia Binotto went into further detail after the race. “It was a failure on the left hub driveshaft wheel,” he explained. “It’s something that we need to carefully analyse.”

Binotto made it clear this was not a case of the team suspecting a problem but deciding to take a chance on it.

“It’s not gearbox related,” he said. “If we would have changed the gearbox those parts would still have been on the car because they were not damaged from the accident and the failure would still have happened.

“So it’s not a matter of gambling with the gearbox at all. The gearbox was okay and the gearbox didn’t fail.”

Ferrari did not fall into the obvious trap which lay in wait for them after Leclerc’s crash. Instead it seems they were caught out by failing to identify a potential problem. The key question the team is now trying to answer is whether they could have spotted it and taken action.

“We need to understand what happened, really, why it happened, and more than that if we could have detected it in parc ferme from yesterday afternoon or this morning,” said Binotto. “So it’s more important, really, to understand why we didn’t detect a problem on the car.”

Ferrari made extensive repairs to the right-hand side of Leclerc’s car, where he struck the barrier, but not the left. The area where the failure occurred was not inspected, Binotto revealed.

“There is a clear regulations that you can only change parts which were damaged,” he explained. “So the parts we changed were really the ones damaged: The front wing, the front-right suspension and the rear right corner. Of course those were clearly damaged and we had got permission to do it. So that’s it.”

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FIA race director Michael Masi confirmed Ferrari did not request to change any parts other than the ones they swapped. They did not ask to replace the part which eventually failed.

“Ferrari made a number of requests to change parts in parc ferme through the normal process after the incident in qualifying, which is run through the FIA technical delegate Jo Bauer and the technical department, and all of the requests that were made for changes of components in parc ferme were all approved,” said Masi.

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, Monaco, 2021
Leclerc’s terrible home luck continued
Whatever fault Ferrari overlooked, it manifested itself as Leclerc reached Mirabeau on his reconnaissance lap. “The problem was not there [when] he left the garage,” said Binotto. “The problem started to appear in turn six.

“The part as well on the car was not showing any cracks but the cracks happened only later,” he continued. “But that’s only something we can analyse by looking at the parts in the next days and looking at all the data.”

But the team has not eliminated the possibility that the failure was related to Leclerc’s crash.

“It could be related to the accident,” said Binotto. “It’s not a gearbox failure, that’s for sure. So it’s not a matter of having gambled with the gearbox itself. I think that all the inspections we made on the gearbox were right so the gearbox was safe and working properly. So it’s something else.

“Is it a consequence or not? I don’t know, honestly, right now I don’t know. Could we have detected it or not? Again, it’s something which we need to analyse and eventually find an answer. It was on the completely opposite side, on the other corner, but again maybe not related or maybe yes [it was].”

Getting one of their cars on pole position for the first time in a year an a half was a huge opportunity for the team. Withdrawing Leclerc and leaving his pole position slot vacant was a crushing blow. Worse, it happened under the gaze of Ferrari’s chairman and CEO John Elkann, who visited the team for the race.

Notwithstanding what happened to Leclerc, given the car’s pace and the fact Carlos Sainz Jnr took second in the race, Binotto saw some reasons for Elkann and the rest of the team to be pleased with their performance.

“Overall it’s a positive weekend and I think he recognised it as well. [We’ve] seen the progress of the car.

“I think he’s disappointed as we are all disappointed for the failure on Charles’ [car], but not different to us. So he’s very interested obviously now and curious to know what happened and make sure that we are putting in place the right actions for the future.”

But the team will be especially anxious to ascertain whether there’s a connection between Leclerc’s crash and the failure. If there is, there will be tough questions to answer about why it was overlooked, and how a race-winning opportunity at F1’s most prestigious venue was squandered.

2021 Monaco Grand Prix

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...
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19 comments on “How did Ferrari overlook the fault which killed Leclerc’s home win hopes?”

  1. My initial feeling was certainly that they should’ve taken the hit for a premature change since P6 starting position would’ve been better than nothing, but understandable since gearbox wasn’t the issue, after all, meaning that the DNS would’ve happened even if they’d changed.

    1. After reading the explanation of what they now know @jerejj, I understand that they were propably right not to replace the gearbox. But I really cannot understand how they missed checking other parts like this for damage!

      Maybe they were tight with time as it was and did not want to break curfew taking further parts off and inspecting them closely? Hard to tell. But this does give me the vibe of bringing in my car for service and when I collect it, I find out that something isn’t working because they ignored it.

      1. From what I’ve seen of Monaco crashes, it is very common for a wheel on one side of the car to nick the barrier going through a corner, which slightly changes the direction of the car resulting in it hitting the barrier with the other side of the car. I don’t know if that is what happened here with Charles’s collision with the barrier, but the failure of the left hand drive shaft makes me think that is exactly what happened. Note that I’m assuming the left hand drive shaft connects the left rear wheel to the differential. So why was the left side of the car overlooked when assessing what parts of the car needed to be repaired? My guess is the mechanics did look at the left hand side of the car and found little or no damage to it. Parc ferma rules applied, so that part couldn’t have been changed anyway.

  2. Parc ferme strikes again.

  3. On the one hand it’s a bitter blow on a weekend where a Ferrari weekend looked entirely possible, and it was messed up entirely due to actions by Ferrari (Leclerc’s crash and subsequent engineering failure to diagnose the left hand drive train fault) but on the other, they still scored a 2nd place in Monaco, 1 place ahead of their nearest rival and Sainz drove superbly well – there’s a lot for them to celebrate here.

    1. I think what’s more important than outscoring mclaren is they could’ve won on pace here at monaco, they were more competitive than mercedes and almost as much as red bull.

  4. This is so text book typically Ferrari, you could see it coming for miles. I deleted Leclerc from my poule predictions for the race, immediately after the incident. To me it was clear the car could be fixed but Ferrari would make the wrong bets and calls. Its in their DNA. I dont think there is a single competitor team that fears them as WCC candidate. Sure they’ll have their moments and possibly victories, but they will always sabotage themselves in the end.

    1. That hurts but maybe true leclerc can be blamed but look at Red Bull or merc in such situation they leave no stone unturned and fix the car in 1 day so that driver has a 2nd lease of life as much as I blame leclerc I blame Ferrari more here for not learning from their rivals . This year they are not competing for championship but next year if it happens and same operational procedures are followed for either sainz or leclerc it can kill the championship hopes if any

    2. For many people, Ferrari’s image is based on Brawn/Schumacher years, when some of the abject failures in the team were corrected. For those that follow F1 for longer, this kind of mistakes was the norm. There was a reason why, despite being in F1 since the beginning, Ferrari has so liitle WCC titles.

    3. You’re absolutely right.

      Ferrari’s number 1 competitor is… Ferrari!

      They seem so scared of making a mistake that they end up making more mistakes.

    4. Ouch but you have a point. They do tend to mess up things, although it’s mostly race strategy from what i have seen.

  5. Lol, how Binotto keeps hammering on to how it’s not gearbox related. As if that absolves them from the blame for not finding this issue on time.

    1. Probably because he is being hammered with gearbox questions

  6. AJ (@asleepatthewheel)
    24th May 2021, 13:28

    Are you not allowed to check the whole car in parc ferme after a crash?
    I get the swapping parts bit, but surely the rules must be pretty stupid if someone crashes and all you can examine is the damaged side.

    1. @asleepatthewheel From the article:
      “Ferrari made a number of requests to change parts in parc ferme through the normal process after the incident in qualifying, which is run through the FIA technical delegate Jo Bauer and the technical department, and all of the requests that were made for changes of components in parc ferme were all approved,” said Masi.

      There was also a nice segment on this by Sam Collins in the post race show, I suggest looking it up.

      Ferrari just inexplicably never requested to be able to check the parts on the left side of the car.

  7. How did Ferrari overlook the fault which killed Leclerc’s home win hopes?

    Simple, Ferrari are a poorly run team!

  8. For the team with the longest history in F1, they still are making rookie mistakes. This one should have been obvious to them. They knew the shock load through the right hand side wheel and drive shaft might damage the gear box, but they didn’t think to look at the parts connected to the left hand side of the gear box? The fact the gear box was ok should have told them it didn’t dissipate the energy from the crash and they should have continued looking across the length of the car.

  9. If Ferrari were to requested to check the left side of the car, would it usually be granted given it wasn’t seemingly affected by the crash?

  10. Thank you for an interesting article.
    Back in the good old days, a Ferrari mechanic would have hung a ‘trade plate’ somewhere on the car and taken it for a good blast out on the open road to check it, found the problem, fixed it and Mike Hawthorn would have achieved a remarkable result in the race.
    But, such is no longer possible – it is called progress!

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